Throughout the 20th century, a rapidly growing population, the expansion of agriculture, and the exploitation of such resources as timber and minerals have put severe pressure on Florida's natural environment.
The state agency principally responsible for safeguarding the environment is the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), created in 1993 by the merger of the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Regulation. Its duties include implementing state pollution control laws and improving water-resource management. The Department oversees and coordinates the activities of the state's five water-management districts, which have planning and regulatory responsibilities. The Department also protects the state's coastal and marine resources. Its Division of State Lands acquires environmentally endangered tracts of land in what has been called the nation's largest environmental land-buying program. More than 1.2 million acres of environmentally important lands have been purchased. The Department also administers state parks and wilderness lands.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Forestry manages four state forests plus the Talquin State Lands. The Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission manages nature preserves and regulates hunting and fishing.
Growth, contamination of groundwater, and control of stormwater (non-point sources) are the state's most serious environmental problems. Groundwater supplies 90% of the drinking water in the state, as well as 8.2% of industry's needs and 53% of agricultural uses. Groundwater, surface water, and soil contamination have been found across the state. Among the major contaminants were the pesticides ethylene dibromide (EDB) (2,300 wells statewide) and other chemicals (about 1,000 additional wells). The state's program to clean groundwater contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks is one of the nation's largest and pioneered the pattern followed by many other states. Florida's groundwater quality standards are among the most stringent in the nation.
Contamination of groundwater is not the state's only water problem. The steadily increasing demand for water for both residential and farm use has reduced the subterranean runoff of fresh water into the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, saltwater from these bodies has begun seeping into the layers of porous limestone that hold Florida's reserves of fresh water. This problem has been aggravated in some areas by the cutting of numerous inlets by developers of coastal property.
The DEP and South Florida Water Management District are undertaking, with various federal agencies, a massive restoration program for the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and Florida Bay. This undertaking resulted from the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the federal government. The restoration effort includes: rechannelization of the Kissimmee River canal to restore its floodplains and prevent water pollution from entering Lake Okeechobee; other measures to reduce suficants in the lake caused by agricultural operations around its edges; creation of large stormwater treatment areas within the Everglades to treat nutrient-rich agricultural waters that are upsetting the ecological balance of the Everglades; and hydrological corrections to improve water delivery to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
In 1960, the only undersea park in the US, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, was established in a 75-sq-mi (194-sq-km) sector off the Atlantic coast of Key Largo, in an effort to protect a portion of the beautiful reefs, rich in tropical fish and other marine life, that adjoin the Keys. Untreated sewage from the Miami area, runoff water polluted by pesticides and other chemicals, dredging associated with coastal development, and the removal of countless pieces of live coral by growing numbers of tourists and souvenir dealers have severely damaged large areas of the reefs. However, most of the Keys is now a National Marine Sanctuary and efforts are being made to improve water quality.
In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency's database listed 598 hazardous waste sites, 51 of which were on the National Priorities List, in Florida. In 2001, Florida received $117,565,000 in federal grants from the EPA; EPA expenditures for procurement contracts in Florida that year amounted to $2,150,000.